Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Moody Blues are Hall of Fame bound

The Moody Blues are one of my dad's favorite bands, so growing up I got to listen to them a lot and developed a taste for them as well. So I' was happy to learn today that this underrated British band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

For the band and their fans, this honor was a long time coming:
For The Moody Blues, the honor comes after years of fans harping that the group deserved recognition. The band became eligible for the honor in 1989, and "in 2013, a Rolling Stone reader poll listed the Moody Blues as one of the top 10 bands that need to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," according to the organization.

If you want to seem them live, they'll be performing at the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land in mid-January. Rolling Stone's interview with frontman Justin Hayward about the honor is worth reading, too.

UH hires a new Athletic Director

The University of Houston has hired one of its own to run its athletics program:
Chris Pezman was introduced as the new vice president of intercollegiate athletics at the University of Houston on Tuesday, telling a crowd of supporters he's back for the long haul. 
"I don't plan on being here for one year or four years," Pezman said. "This is my life. This is home."
Pezman received a standing ovation during the news conference, which was attended by several teammates from his time as a walk-on to team captain in the early 1990s. 
Pezman becomes the 11th athletic director in school history and the first alumni to assume the school's top athletic position. He received both degrees from UH, was a three-year letterman on the football team and served as a graduate assistant and later in an administrative role. 
Pezman, 47, spent the last four years as senior associate athletic director and chief operating officer at the University of California, Berkeley.
Houston's AD position position opened up as a result of former AD Hunter Yuracheck's sudden departure to Arkansas early in December. Pezman's name was floated almost immediately; UH Board of Regents chairman Tilman Fertitta and UH President Renu Khator met with him shortly afterward and made the decision to hand the keys to the department over to him.

If the chatter on UH athletics message boards is any indication, fans are happy with this hire. Acquaintances of mine who are well-connected to UH athletics say he did well during his previous administrative stint here in Houston and also performed admirably while at Cal-Berkeley. The fact that he is originally from here, and understands the relationship between this city of fair-weather fans and its largest university, also helps. 

I'm pretty confident UH got this hire right, and I'm happy to welcome Chris Pezman back home. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Obligatory snow photos

In the wee hours of Friday morning, a rare snowfall fell across Houston. The flurries actually began Thursday night, and my girlfriend and stayed up late enough to see a few flakes fall. We went to bed thinking that very little additional snow would fall and none of it would stick. We were happy to be proven wrong the following morning.

Here are some photos that I took at my apartment complex Friday morning right before heading in to work:

(No, I can't take credit for building the snowman.)

So once again, Houston experiences a snowfall the December following a hurricane. You'd think these two weather phenomena are related or something...

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Flat-Earthers, and the fundamental problem with their conspiracy theory

Over the past few months, I've discovered that people who actually believe the earth is flat are, indeed, a thing. Take this guy, for example:
It is a stunt worthy of Evel Knievel. This week, if all goes to plan, "Mad" Mike Hughes, a Californian, will launch himself 1,800 feet (550 metres) into the sky in a homemade steam-powered rocket made of scrap metal. As well as providing entertainment, Mr Hughes wants to prove a point. On his trip over the Mojave Desert, which could propel him at speeds up to 500 miles (800km) per hour, the 61-year-old limousine-driver-turned-daredevil hopes to prove the earth is flat.
Some may be surprised to learn that people still hold such views. After all, the earth has been photographed from space. But such photos could have been faked by the evil forces who secretly control the world, right? And all those centuries of scientific evidence suggesting that the Earth id spherical could be wrong, right? In America interest in the flat-Earth movement appears to be growing. In September Bobby Ray Simmons Jr., a rapper also known as B.O.B., launched a crowd-funding campaign to send satellites into orbit to determine the Earth's shape. On November 8th, 500 "flat-Earthers" assembled in North Carolina for the first annual Flat Earth International Conference. Data from Google Trends show that in the past two years, searches for "flat earth" have more than tripled.
Aside from the distinct possibility that Mr. Hughes's stunt (which appears to be on hold, at least for now) could earn him a Darwin Award, his attempt to prove that the Earth is flat, B.O.B.'s aforementioned GoFundMe account (as well as his rap battle with Neil DeGrasse Tyson), and that Flat Earth Conference in North Carolina - in the research triangle, no less! - are all indications that this conspiracy theory, as ridiculous as it is, is gaining momentum. NBA player Kyrie Irving may or may not be a flat-Earther. People in Colorado who believe the Earth is flat are claiming to be “persecuted.” During last August's solar eclipse, the Chronicle actually bothered to find out what a local flat-Earther thought about the phenomenon.
The Earth has been known to be round since the days of the ancient Greeks (the story that Christopher Columbus sailed to America to “prove” that the world is round is bullshit). Easily-observable natural phenomena - not just sunrises and sunsets, but the movement of the stars, the change of seasons, weather phenomena, lunar and solar eclipses, etc. - are easily explained by the existence of a round earth spinning in space. Flat-Earth explanations for these phenomenon, such as they are, are invariably convoluted, hand-wavy, or simply non-existent. Furthermore, just because you can’t perceive the curvature of the earth with your eyes doesn’t mean that it isn’t curved. You’re just too small, and the earth too large, to the curvature to be perceptible.* 
So on one hand, it doesn’t matter what flat-Earthers think. The planet on which we reside is spheroid, and that fact will not change no matter how many conferences they have, how many billboards they try to erect, how many B-list rappers or sports figures they recruit to their cause, how many nutjobs fly homemade rockets over the desert, how many ridiculous Youtube videos they make, how many levels they bring on to airplanes, or how many arguments they start in the comments section.

On the other hand, though, it matters a lot. The fact that we even have to have this argument in 2017 is as disturbing as it is humorous, and says a lot about the power of anti-intellectualism, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and even the internet itself. It is in many ways an extreme example of the same forces that give us everything from Alex Jones to Pizzagate to 9/11 Trutherism to creationism to climate science denial to the anti-vaccine movement to the fact that a profoundly ignorant and pathologically-lying buffoon is currently the President of the United States. There's a notion that science itself is a conspiracy, that everything we’re being told is wrong, and it only appears to be gaining momentum. It's a "tsunami of stupid," and it's really quite depressing.
Science aside, however, there's a fundamental problem with the flat-Earth conspiracy theory. It's the same problem that plagues any large-scale conspiracy: the bigger it is, the more likely it is that somebody involved in it will either intentionally or inadvertently reveal its existence, or that something else will go wrong with it.

People talk. Whistleblowers come forward. Cover gets blown. Somebody, either in a moment of moral clarity or because they're disgruntled with the whole enterprise, comes forward and spills the beans. It happens all the time in the real world, whether it be corporate conspiracies (Enron) or criminal conspiracies (mob informants who bring down entire crime families).

In order for the Flat Earthers' theory - i.e., the idea that the Earth is actually flat but the truth is being hidden by a vast conspiracy - to be correct, it would require that untold millions of people employed in a wide range of professions have to be complicit as well as silent. This includes astronomers, physicists, meteorologists, geographers, geologists, oceanographers, aerospace engineers, historians, the military, the entire aviation, shipping and telecommunications industries, even everyone who has claimed to have flown across the southern hemisphere.** This complicity would have to extend across both the public and private sectors and to every country and advanced culture on earth regardless of political or religious ideology.

Not only would the silence and complicity of each and every one of these untold millions of people, both living and dead, be required, but so would astronomical money and resources be required to continually and flawlessly perpetuate the hoax. The odds that a whistleblower wouldn’t eventually emerge out of the millions and millions of people involved in the conspiracy, or that something wouldn’t eventually go wrong with the apparatus supporting the conspiracy, are pretty much zero.
What purpose, furthermore, would such a vast, complicated and expensive conspiracy serve? How does foisting the false idea of a round globe on the population benefit anyone in any way? There are much easier ways to get rich, maintain power, keep the masses uninformed, or inflict evil upon the world that don’t involve an elaborate conspiracy about the shape of the earth that would involve untold numbers of people and resources and require rigorous maintenance across the centuries.

I honestly don’t think that a lot of the people who call themselves “Flat-Earthers” are truly believers in a flat earth. I think some of them are bored internet trolls, others are hoaxers or satirists testing the limits of Poe’s Law, others are simply looking to make a name for themselves or to profit from Youtube video hits. But the "true" Flat-Earthers - biblical literalists (even though the Bible really doesn't say anywhere that the earth is actually flat), people who are easily suggestible, and people who are hopelessly ignorant of science - are, sadly, out there. There's really nothing that can be done for them, except to laugh at them.
If there’s a bright side to Flat Earth, it is that it is truly is the conspiracy theory to end all conspiracy theories. Unless you want to argue that the sky is really not blue or that water is really not wet, you really can’t get much crazier than arguing that our globe is actually flat.
*Although, on several occasions, as I’ve sat at the window of an airplane at cruising altitude, I’ve fixed my eyes on a point on the horizon in front of me, and have faintly but definitely perceived the earth’s curvature. This is especially easy to do if you’re flying over an ocean or area of generally flat topography and there are few or no clouds. I've also seen this for myself coming back from a recent trip to New Orleans.

**There’s a rather simple, albeit expensive, way to disprove a flat-Earther: invite them to fly with you around the south pole. There are plenty of options for doing so: Air New Zealand flies from Auckland, New Zealand to Buenos Aires, Argentina; Qantas flies from Sydney, Australia to Santiago, Chile and Johannesburg, South Africa; LATAM flies from Santiago, Chile to Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. According to the dominant flat earth model (the north pole is the center of the earth and what we normally think of Antarctica or the south pole is actually its outer edge), then these flights would be impossible. You could even make a really cool vacation out of it!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Houston 24, Navy 14

The Cougars ended an up-and-down 2017 season on a high note, defeating Navy at home last Friday afternoon. The Coogs started off slow and actually trailed 7-14 at halftime, but scored 17 unanswered points in the second half.

The Good: Quarterback D'Eriq King completed 21 of 27 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown, and rushed 16 times for another 57 yards and two touchdowns. Ed Oliver went into beast mode against the Midshipmen running game, recording 2 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss as part of a 14-tackle afternoon. Cougar cornerback Alexander Myres's interception late in the game ended any hope of a Navy comeback.

The Bad: The entire first half, for Houston. The Cougar offense sputtered, kick returner John Leday fumbled a kickoff return, the Cougar defense gave up touchdowns on drives of 75 and 55 yards, and at the half the Midshipmen dominated in total yardage (212 yards to 119) and time of possession (20:29 minutes to 9:31 minutes). Fortunately, the second half was much better for Houston; however, they still ended the game with fewer first downs, more turnovers and more penalty yards than Navy.

What It Means: The Cougars end the 2017 season with a 7-4 record (which is one win ahead of my preseason prediction), which is good for second place in the AAC West Division, and now wait to find out which bowl they'll be attending. I'll have more thoughts about the 2017 campaign once that game has been played.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Rice fires David Baliff after 30-14 loss to UNT

The Mean Green came to Rice Stadium last weekend and handed the Owls their 11th loss of the season. The Owls briefly led the game on a interception return for a touchdown, but after that North Texas took over; the score was 24-14 in the Mean Green's favor at the half, and UNT added two field goals after halftime in spite of being held to just 84 yards in the second half.

After the tough season-ending loss, focus shifted to the future of the man who had led the program for the past eleven seasons, head coach David Bailiff. Sure enough, on Monday Rice's administration announced that they were parting ways with Bailiff:
Bailiff was informed of the decision during a Monday meeting with director of athletics Joe Karlgaard. 
Bailiff was 57-80 and led Owls to four bowls including three straight from 2012 through 2014. 
Bailiff was named Conference USA's coach of the year twice (2008 and 2013). His 57 wins are second in school history behind Jess Neely. 
Bailiff took Rice to heights it hadn't reached in more than half a century, leading the Owls to two of the school's three 10-win seasons—their first was in 1949. 
During Bailiff's tenure (tied for the third-longest in school history), Rice players have regularly excelled off the field; eight players have been taken in the NFL Draft; and the school opened the $31.5 million, 60,000-square-foot Brian Patterson Center for coaches' offices and a locker and weight room in 2015. 
After going 3-9 in Bailiff's first season in 2007, Rice rebounded with a 10-3 year and won the Texas Bowl in 2008. But since winning the Owls' first outright conference title in 56 years in 2013, Bailiff's teams have done progressively worse.
Coach Bailiff was by all accounts a good guy - I've met him - who brought the Owls a measure of success the program hadn't experienced in a long time. But there's also little doubt that the program was trending downward under his leadership: from a 10-4 record (and Conference USA championship) in 2013, to an 8-5 record (and most recent bowl appearance) in 2014, to a 5-7 record in 2015, to a 3-9 record last season, to this season's 1-11 campaign. Given that trend, Rice AD Joe Karlgaard's decision is understandable.

The question now is who Rice will find to replace Bailiff. Rice is a hard place to win, due to a variety of factors including high academic standards and low fan support. It takes a special kind of coach to keep that program competitive, and even then coaching might not, by itself, be enough. As the Rice athletics program searches for their next coach, John Royal ponders the future of the program overall:
Is there a corner that the team can turn? Is there anything that can be done that will revitalize not only the dwindling Rice fanbase, but will somehow make the program relevant throughout Houston so that people will actually come out to Rice Stadium? 
These are all questions for another day. But they all need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
While Rice licks the wounds of a rough season and looks for a new coach, they might find inpiration from the team that beat them last weekend. Three seasons ago, the Mean Green had also limped their way to a 1-11 record. But Seth Littrell took over as coach following the 2015 season, and has now led North Texas to a 9-3 regular season record and a trip to the Conference USA Championship Game.

Hey, Case Keenum haters:

Turns out we were right and y'all were wrong: he really is a good quarterback.

Obviously the right environment helps; he's certainly found one with the Minnesota Vikings, which is more than could be said when he was playing with the perennially-woeful Texans. Many of the same local media types who were lambasting him during his time with the Texans are now in fact praising him, as they've come to discover what those of us who watched him at the University of Houston knew all along:
Of course, any objective observer could have seen this coming from Keenum. When Keenum completes eight of his first nine passes against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, he’s just showing what he always displayed at the University of Houston. He completed 69.4 percent of his passes as a Cougar. He’s always been an ultra accurate quarterback. 
When Keenum slips out of a defensive end’s grasp, steps up into the pocket and delivers a bullet pass to Adam Thielen for a first down, he’s just doing what he’s always done. The same thing he did at UH while shattering the NCAA’s all-time passing records. The same thing he did in putting up 31 points against Bill Belichick’s defense for an absolutely dreadful Texans team in his first extended stint as an NFL starter back in 2013.
This is a guy who’s always made big plays throughout the entirety of his quarterbacking life. 
The difference is Keenum finally has a good NFL team around him. He has weapons to utilize. And competent coaching. The same things he always had at UH.
“It’s the Case Keenum show,” Aikman beams at one point during the Thanksgiving broadcast.
Whenever anyone’s given Keenum a legitimate chance to take the stage, it always has been. Many of us saw this coming. True University of Houston fans certainly aren’t surprised by anything Keenum is doing in the NFL. The anti-Keenum rhetoric in the Houston media never reflected the true feelings in the city.
Much of the local sports media, of course, is so deep in the tank for UT, A&M and the "Power 5" conferences that they are incapable of giving the University of Houston, or any of its alumni, the credit they deserve. That's probably never going to change, unfortunately. All Case Keenum can continue to do is prove his haters wrong.

To which I say: keep up the good work, Case!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

UH takes first step towards a medical school

Something the University of Houston has been wanting for over a decade is now one step closer to reality:
University of Houston System regents on Thursday unanimously voted to create a medical school, a long-time dream aimed at increasing the supply of primary-care doctors for Texas' most underserved areas. 
Under a proposal that must be approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and a national accrediting body, UH would begin enrolling its first class of medical students in fall 2020, and reach a full complement of 480 by 2027. It would ask the Texas Legislature for $40 million over 10 years to cover some of its expenses.
"There is a tremendous need in the community here in Houston, in inner cities and in rural areas," said UH President and Chancellor Renu Khator, who called the vote "a historic day" for UH. "Our model will help us do that while preparing primary care physicians who are trained to practice in community-based clinics."
Texas ranks 47th out of 50 states in the ratio of primary care doctors per person and the shortage is expected to get worse. Despite recent pushes to increase the pipeline of doctors in Texas' rural and urban areas, a significant number of counties and communities, many in the Houston area, continue to be classified as medically underserved.
I can only assume that the UH System regents sense that past political opposition to UH gaining a medical school has diminished, since I doubt they'd vote to approve its creation (and risk the embarrassment that would result if the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board rejected it) otherwise. At least one former skeptic - State Representative Garnet Coleman - seems to be on board, and the proposed medical school also has the (rather critical) support of the Texas Medical Center.
At Thursday's meeting, seven months after state lawmakers asked UH to evaluate the need for a medical school, regents approved four actions: establishing a college of medicine; applying to the state's higher education coordinating board for approval; initiating the accreditation process; and finalizing a partnership for new residency programs where newly minted doctors will train in primary care and other "needed" specialties, such as psychiatry and general surgery. 
The university has a letter of intent with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) Gulf Coast Division to create eight new residency programs and more than 100 first-year slots by 2020. 
Board Chairman Tilman Fertitta said the board would "fight on" in pursuit of the college and pledged to work with state lawmakers to "make this happen." Stephen Spann, the medical school's planning dean, said conversations with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and legislators have been "very positive." 
Approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is necessary for new degree programs, not individual colleges. Raymund Paredes, the agency's leader, was at Thursday's regent committee meeting where the proposal was presented but left before the vote. A spokeswoman later said Paredes would not speculate on how the agency would receive the plan.
The price tag for the new school is expected to exceed $272 million over 13 years. In addition to the state funding, UH's plan also calls for $40 million in philanthropic gifts over 10 years, tuition revenue to cover $51 million and other revenue to cover remaining costs.
The timeline, as it currently stands, is for the University of Houston to submit an application to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in February of 2018 for a Doctor of Medicine degree program, and, if approval is granted, to submit an application to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education for accreditation the following August.

Should all this fall into place, it would obviously be a huge step forward for UH. Stay tuned.

The Texas Tribune has more.

Houston 17, Tulane 20

The Cougars went to New Orleans and got thoroughly outplayed and outcoached by the Green Wave.

The Good: Tulane has a pretty campus (this was my first time there) and Yulman Stadium is a nice, intimate venue for the Green Wave. It's a much better place to watch a game than the sterile and cavernous Superdome, and the St. Charles streetcar makes getting to and from campus easy.

The Bad: The Cougar offense. In spite of out-gaining Tulane in total yardage, they simply couldn't put points on the board. They managed only three points in three trips inside the red zone. The offensive playcalling was either predictably boring or incomprehensibly stupid (a 1-yard pass on 3rd and 10? Seriously?). The offense turned the ball over twice (including D'Eriq King's ill-advised pass into double coverage in the endzone that killed a promising drive), and failed on two critical fourth down attempts (one of which probably should have been a field goal attempt instead, and the other of which would turn out to be the game-losing play). It did not help that RB Duke Catalon was injured and had to leave the game early.

The Ugly: The Cougar defense. It was dreadful, allowing Tulane to gain 417 total yards of offense (including 251 yards through the air, which is significant because Tulane is not a pass-happy offense), convert 8 out of 15 third down attempts (the Cougars simply couldn't get the Green Wave off the field; Tulane's last two scoring drives of the first half were of 94 and 77 yards, respectively), and eat up clock in the process (the Green Wave dominated time of possession, 36:24 to 23:36). In the fourth quarter, the Cougars finally scored a touchdown to go ahead 17-13. The defense allowed the Green Wave to retake the lead for good only 33 seconds later, when they were utterly embarrassed by a 64-yard touchdown pass from Tulane QB Johnathan Banks to WR Terren Encalade (who utterly owned the UH secondary and finished the day with 8 receptions for 168 yards).

What It Means: In the overall scheme of things, not much - the Cougars already have the six wins they need to be bowl eligible, and were not in contention for the AAC West division title even before Memphis clinched it Saturday.

That being said, this loss, which is almost as bad as the flop against Tulsa, suggests that this team has some real problems that can't be rectified simply by putting in D'Eriq King at quarterback. John Royal notes:
The Cougars are still searching for an identity. The swagger from the Tom Herman years is missing. Putting in King and letting him try to recreate Greg Ward Jr.’s magic as the quarterback has brought some spark to the team, but there’s still too much inconsistency. The injury to running back Duke Catalon early in the first quarter appeared to strip the team of some effectiveness in the running game.
From my perspective, it's looking more and more like the Major Applewhite hire was a mistake.

The Cougars end their regular season with a home game against Navy on the day after Thanksgiving in front of what will likely be the smallest crowd in TDECU Stadium history.

Is Houston getting an NHL team? (And what should it be called?)

Houston has been without any sort of pro hockey team for over five years. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta might be looking to change that:
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said Thursday he is "in the very early stage of evaluating" the opportunity to bring an NHL team to Houston.
That came on the heels of a report that Fertitta recently met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. 
The Athletic, citing multiple sources, reported Wednesday that Fertitta and Bettman met at league headquarters in New York. Bettman declined comment to the website about the meeting, adding "we're not relocating any clubs right now." 
Regarding a possible team in Houston, Bettman said, "If Houston were to express an interest in having an NHL franchise, under the right circumstances, it's something we might want to consider."
I'm not a huge hockey fan, but I do think Houston - as of right now, the largest city in the nation without an NHL franchise - should have, and can support, a team. Now that the biggest impediment to Houston having a hockey team - former Rockets owner Les Alexander - is out of the picture, it appears like Fertitta and the NHL are moving in that direction, although it will probably take some time to work everything out.

As for what the potential team should be named, well, that's easy: if the Aeros name is still available (it's unclear who currently owns the rights to it), then there's no reason not to use the name most closely associated with hockey in Houston. (And no, Chronicle, people have never confused the "Aeros" with the "Astros" in the past.)

ESPN's Greg Wyshynski thinks that Houston easily passes the "Bettman Test" for an NHL franchise, while John Royal thinks an NHL team in Houston is inevitable. Kuff also weighs in.